A Brief History of Me by Vince Ditrich
Although the town in which I was born only had 30,000 inhabitants it boasted six ice rinks. I began drumming as a toddler. I was given a choice very early in life by my musician father: it was to be either hockey or music, not both. Given that the house was bulging with saxophones and trumpets and pianos and tubas my decision was quickly made and acted upon, for as a sixth birthday present, in April of 1969, my Dad hired me to play in his weekend combo. It was a wedding at the German-Canadian Hall. I made $15.
238,000 polkas and quite a few bands later I moved to Vancouver and commenced playing with everyone possible. My first hitch was with Doug Elliott and Steven Drake, now better known of the Odds, in the form of both "20th Century" & "The Croon Toons". The Croon Toons were dreamt up as a joke during "20th Century" rehearsals as a way for us to pay our rent that month. We bought remarkably ugly custard-yellow polyester tuxedos from the garbage bin of a formal rentals joint, ran through a few old standards, took the piss out of a few new ones, got somewhat drunk, and discovered that although we were rather off-our-rockers we could profit by it.
Soon afterward I got a gig with Blues legend Long John Baldry. Although I considered myself quite the wise old road-dog by that point (having played extensively in some of Canada's most frightening maximum-security saloons and beer parlours), at the tender age of twenty-three I found touring with Baldry & Company to be a major league eye-opener. All that came before had been kindergarten.
This was a collection of characters, all considerably older than myself, so unpredictable and apt to shenanigans that I lived in fear. This one would get on stage drunk, dressed as Superman and depart upon bizarre, indecipherable tangents. That one couldn't keep track of his shoes, never mind our schedule. Another was apt to mix wine and tranquilizers. So pickled was one player that he eventually fell asleep on-stage, after I'd leaned over and shut-off his amplifier in a move to stop the atonal cacophony that had been emanating therefrom. He snored away throughout the remainder of the show, head blithely in his hand, for a full 90 minutes. It was at this point that I realised that, although Rock 'n Roll may never die, many of its practitioners will, and damn soon.
Having narrowly survived this harrowing experience I moved along to stints on-tour and in the studio with Doug and the Slugs (who, in their fatherly way introduced me to the pleasures of single-malt scotch); BTO (who did not), Paul Hyde (never, never play poker with this man), & Sue Medley (the highlight of which was my nearly knocking Bob Dylan down a set of concrete steps -- by accident of course -- while we toured with him in1988. Bob's not too steady on his pins; had I opened that heavy door one second earlier we'd probably have been reduced to listening to remixes of a Joan Baez disco-eulogy. Better the devil you know...) I earned my first gold disc with Medley in 1989.
In 1990, I was asked to join Spirit of the West. Don't ask me why. I had nothing in common with these Canadian cultural icons whatever. I couldn't even skate. If questioned by them I would have had to admit that I was one of only three boys in all of my elementary school who couldn't. Of the other two, one died of a heart attack and the other has become a transvestite. It seemed at the time as if Spirits and I were oil and vinegar (I suspect I was the latter); it was as if we had grown-up on different planets. But they were a close-knit family who needed a drummer; and I was a drummer who, having just lost my mother to illness only weeks before, badly needed their family. At any rate in the ensuing years we have traveled extensively, recorded extensively, & ingested refreshments extensively. We have become very close friends indeed. We have played in cellars to no one; in a brick culvert to Germans; in muddy fields to soaked folkies; in magnificent theatres with symphonies. We've been around. It has been a happy collaboration that continues to the present and it has earned me three gold albums, two platinum albums, almost 53 dollars, and a neurotic fear of tour busses.
I've been fortunate to appear on the albums of, to name a few, Mae Moore ("Oceanview Motel") -- I had to climb a fence with drum equipment in my arms to make it on time for that one; fellow history junkie James Keelaghan (Juno winner "My Skies", and "A Recent Future"), fellow warrior Oscar Lopez ("Heat"), The Compadres -- a tremendously enjoyable Latino romp with both Keelaghan & Lopez as well as bassist Brent Gubbels; Glen Stace ("Buddha Hotel"), Doug & the Slugs ("Tales From Terminal City"), Tami Greer ("Shadow", and another album the name of which slips my mind); mad genius Pete McCormack ("Breathe", "Trust"), Rhodes & Marshall ("Too Young For Elvis"), Michael Friedman, who has the world's second-longest album title with "I Never Knew What Hit Me Until Now" (eclipsed only by the soundtrack of "Its a Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad World"); Megan Metcalfe ("Love Is an Outlaw"), Paul Hyde ("Love and the Great Depression"), and many others. One particular day I was hired to record children's music in the morning and death metal in the afternoon. Variety is the spice of life.
In addition to drumming & percussion, I also sing, whistle (yes, whistle) and scrub furtively at my guitar, which was generously donated to me by singer Colleen Eccleston with the hope that I might stop whining and get around to composing a few songs. Her tactic worked, I'm happy to report.
I am quickly going broke due to a sudden interest in photography, and when not changing diapers or doing laundry I write short stories, poetry, and occasionally get published as a humourist. I have been known also to write about drumming, too.
To my delight I was put to work as an historical researcher by my friend Pete McCormack, singer/songwriter/playwright and Stephen Leacock Award-nominated novelist, who needed a mountain of facts and anecdotes for a book he is still labouring over, years later. For some masochistic reason this has inspired me to take a kick at writing book some day.
My main focus right now is a solo album -- which is under production as I write this. It promises to be a tour de force of epic proportions, altering the very fabric of time/space. Honest. It features my compositions, my singing, drumming, and (find some shelter!) even a bit of my guitar playing. I will be enlisting the aid of, among others, George Blondheim, Marc Robichaud, Hugh McMillan and my old friend Richard Sera. As teens Richard and I were part of a Top 40 group with the wretched name of "Mateus". I've got this video tape...
As grumpy and indelicate as I am, I believe I'm a latent librarian. Great at filing. Fab book collection and not one bloody Jackie Collins to be found. I have a diet that would frighten Worf from Star Trek. I generally win at Trivial Pursuit. I believe Farley Mowat is a national treasure, and I wish we could adopt Bill Bryson. I have so many facts and figures about the Space Program indelibly seared into my memory that you might think I'm autistic. I can drink a beer faster than anyone except a massive man named "Chief" in Minneapolis. I am a keen student of history and an even more keen fan of the aforementioned beer, so I guess you might be tempted to conclude that I like nothing better than getting pissed-up and recounting past piss-ups.
I live on Vancouver Island with my long-suffering wife Marion, two very mischievous boys named Perry and Sam, and a huge eyesore of a pickup truck.